China said on Friday it hoped U.S.-led Asia-Pacific free-trade talks would be transparent and China would be open to joining them, playing down controversy over competing U.S. and Chinese visions for regional trade.
Ministers from 12 countries negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact will meet in Beijing over the weekend to discuss the deal ahead of a gathering of leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
But China, which is not party to the TPP negotiations, is promoting a different free trade plan, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, instead of the more comprehensive, Washington-backed TPP.
Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang acknowledged the significance of the TPP and said China was watching closely.
"TPP will have a far-reaching and profound impact on international trade. This must be admitted. Therefore, we are paying great attention to the progression of TPP talks," Shen said.
The TPP is widely seen as the economic backbone of U.S. President Barack Obama's "pivot" to Asia, what some experts view as an attempt to balance China's rise by establishing a larger U.S. presence in the region, including military assets.
Shen said China was open to joining the TPP talks and would like to see them move forward "smoothly".
"However, we also hope TPP can keep an open, inclusive and transparent attitude," Shen said, adding that he did not think the United States was unwelcoming toward China's potential inclusion in negotiations.
China was initially suspicious of the TPP, fearing that it might be used by the United States to isolate it from other economies in the region.
In recent months, however, Chinese officials have said the pact would be incomplete without China.
The TPP would establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile and Japan, encompassing about 800 million people and almost 40 percent of the global economy.
The United States has said other countries, including potentially China, could join the TPP once the deal between current negotiating partners is wrapped up.
But newcomers will have to meet high standards on issues such as intellectual property rights and the role of state-owned enterprises, which are already issues in U.S.-China relations.